The 2024 Busch Clash
It rains in SoCal. Sometimes, it rains a lot.
NASCAR scuttled their plans for their two-day racing and superstars-of-entertainment extravaganza at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and squeezed as much excitement as they could into just Saturday.
By Brian Kennedy
Sun, Feb 4, 2024 03:30 PM PST
“It never rains in Southern California, but girl, don’t they warn you….” I don’t know what the warning was, but the first part of that old song lyric is certainly a lie. It rains in SoCal. Sometimes, it rains a lot. With that prediction in mind, NASCAR scuttled their plans for a two-day racing and superstars-of-entertainment extravaganza at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on the weekend. Instead, they squeezed as much excitement as they could into a day, Saturday, that stretched well into the night.
The Busch Clash, a non-points race that traditionally began the season at Daytona International Speedway, has been held in Los Angeles for now three years. If you’re thinking, “I didn’t know they had a track in LA,” why, you’re right. But “if we build it, they will come” thinking allowed NASCAR to envision racing in a football stadium, a famous one, the home of USC football, a couple of Olympics, and even, when the team first moved from Brooklyn in the middle of the last century, some Dodgers games.
So if all of those events can be held at the Coliseum, why not racing? Why not indeed! NASCAR takes over the place and lays down asphalt in a quarter-mile configuration that looks for all the world when you see it like it’s this way all the time.
They then chill the beer (which is $18, by the way, unless you want the cheap stuff—that’s $17), invite all their closest friends, and go racin’. The prize is cash like what you get at a good old Saturday night short track, not points as in the regular season. The spectacle is something else altogether. Names as famous as Canelo Alvarez and Pit Bull make appearances, sing the national anthem, and so forth. This is LA, after all.
The event was to be spread over the course of two days, with Saturday being free and Sunday, by one report, thirty bucks. There would have been practice and heat races on Saturday and the feature racing on Sunday. Thirty-six cars start out the weekend, and four heat races plus other factors (a provisional spot for the highest person on points last year who has not already qualified, for instance) narrow the number to 23, which is all that fits on the short track surface.
That’s how it was planned, because it never rains here. Then the weather forecasters got involved, labelling Sunday as the day LA was supposed to get almost three inches of rain. What you don’t know if you don’t live here is that such a prediction throws people into a frenzy in LA. It’s like a blizzard is coming.
On the way to Saturday’s race, the radio had some public safety official or other saying that if people could please stay off the roads Sunday, it would be the wise choice. The storm to come, in fact, is supposed to rage for three days. For those of you who have never experienced rain here, know two things. First, people freak out and go crazy, and their driving becomes extremely unfortunate. Second, it’s not like rain back East. It just falls heavily directly out of the sky, not from any particular direction, and that goes on for hours at a time.
Even if they could race in those conditions, it would be no fun for spectators in the giant roofless stadium on USC’s campus. So with this in mind, NASCAR made a call to truncate the whole affair and do all the racing Saturday. That cut qualifying down to three sessions with 12 cars in each. They raced six at a time for four minutes to try to post their best time. From that came the 22 fastest cars and the provisional was added.
The pole was taken by Denny Hamlin, and the provisional spot fell to Ryan Blaney. Thirteen cars went home after qualifying, including local favorite Daniel Suarez. He would get his comeuppance later in the evening. Wait for that.
You couldn’t find a more glamorous venue for racing. Just past the turn three corner, the lights of downtown LA’s towers shine. A little closer, the Space Shuttle that’s part of a museum exhibit can be seen. And if your focus is closer in still, you have the roar of 23 cars—better, according to one observer I spoke with—than last year’s 26, which crowded the track up too much. And like you would expect on a tight, short track, there was some beating and banging, and even three-wide racing. The green flag flew around 5pm.
The first half of the race, 75 scheduled laps, saw Joey Logano chasing Denny Hamlin early and Ty Gibbs getting into the mix. The lead group was a string of seven cars, then there was a pack, then a few cars in a string at the back. The racing was careful. Around lap 45, Ryan Blaney bumped Todd Gilliland and went by. Shortly after, Gilliland smacked the wall in turn one and retired.
The first half was about to end when John Hunter Nemechek hit the wall in turn four and brought out the caution. Yellow laps did not count, so it was a while before the racing resumed. One lap no big deal, right? Well, Kyle Larson made it three-wide for the lead as the caution fell again to end the first-half segment. Logano was out front at the time.
The promise was for a less controlled and polite last 75 laps. Things didn’t exactly work out that way, as most drivers stayed polite rather than banging each other around.
But there was a very exciting finish due to a NASCAR “green/white/checker” flag situation from a back-in-the-pack incident that transferred forward. Bubba Wallace hit Kyle Larson, who hit Ty Gibbs. Gibbs had earlier led some laps and ended up leading the most on the day, but he was mired in a small pack that was not likely to catch the leaders. Yellow flew just before the race would have ended, forcing extra laps.
Larson explained himself after the event: “It’s a product of this racing, and finally reaching my limit, I guess,” and later added about possible follow-on effects, “Obviously Bubba and I have had a history in the past, and I’m sure, or I mean I don’t really know. Hopefully forgive and forget. Like I said, he ran through me three times. I'm just the one who happened to get him at the end.”
Denny Hamlin had been leading most of the session, but he was smoking his front tire going into every corner as the end neared. Was his stuff “used up,” as true fans like to say? Restarting next to him was Blaney, with Kyle Busch in third and many observers presuming he would be the beneficiary as the other two took each other out.
Hamlin explained after the race: “I could feel it locking up, but I didn’t see the smoke or know how bad it was. These cars, the configuration of the track—we’re braking heavily while we’re starting the turn. You take a load off the left front, and if you smoke it one time, you flat-spot the tire, and then it will go around and find that flat spot again, and it’s just going to keep on making it worse. So once I did it one good time, that’s it. I was destined to do it every corner, unless I really backed it up, braking, and then I was going to get run over, so I just said, ‘Screw it. If the tire stays together, then I’ll keep my entry speed up high enough where I don’t get bumped.’”
The potential for disaster wasn’t realized. Hamlin managed to make it to the end, to take the win. Kyle Busch was second, and Blaney third. Logano was fourth and Kyle Larson sixth.
After the race, Hamlin, who seems to be cultivating his reputation as a love him or hate him guy, turned to the crowd. Smoke from an enormous burnout still lingered around him.
“You know I beat your favorite driver, right?” he said. They knew. Still, buoyed by the fact that they hadn’t let the threat of rain ruin their night, they cheered him. It was 6:38pm, and the sky was still dry despite radar pictures showing an enormous river in the sky hanging above Southern California from Santa Barbara to Orange County and beyond.
The show wasn’t over. Twenty-one cars from NASCAR of Mexico took to the track for “La Batalla en el Coliseo.” Included amongst them was Suarez, who ended up taking the win. Thousands of fans were still in attendance, just not the tens of thousands that were hoped for.
“Blame it on the rain.” Who sang that, anyway?
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.